It's 2018 now, and the loot boxes story isn’t going away. Now, Washington State lawmakers have joined the fray and are digging deeper in an effort to determine whether loot boxes are a form of gambling targeting children. According to a recent news story, Senator Kevin Ranker, a Democrat representing Orcas Island, introduced a bill that asks state officials and game developers to figure out whether loot boxes and other similar game mechanics are nothing more than a form of gambling that takes advantage of children. Ranker said that the industry needs to figure out how to regulate loot boxes because it's unacceptable to have "predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something" (I'm pretty sure those bunnies feel unfairly singled out right now).

This latest move is just one in a series of US and European efforts to tackle what many see as a definite shift in the industry towards reliance on loot boxes. After the huge debacle with Star Wars Battlefront II, which was accused of going way overboard with its use of loot boxes and had to pull them from the game completely prior to launch, the legal landscape is ripe for moves such as the one by Ranker. In addition to Ranker, a lawmaker in Hawaii proposed banning the sale of games containing loot boxes to anyone under 21, and Belgium's government is currently investigating the nature of loot box mechanics and whether they should be classified as gambling or not.

Apple itself, as we wrote a few weeks back, has quietly changed the App Store Review Guidelines to force developers to disclose the odds of "'loot boxes' or other mechanics that provide randomized virtual items for purchase." We expressed doubts at the time about this change having any effect on the popularity of gacha mechanics in mobile games, and so far we haven't seen any tangible effect on loot boxes in mobile games.

It's hard to deny the impact of loot boxes on gaming, though, with big developers spending a ton of money and development time optimizing their use and the various mechanics that will make them more "attractive." At the same time, the World Health Organization has recently defined what it calls "gaming disorder," which pretty much translates to gaming addiction. I wonder if lawmakers going after loot boxes will use WHO's recognition of gaming disorder as a way to further their point that loot boxes are making games more addictive and fueling "gaming disorders." After all, gaming disorder's WHO code is 6C71, right under 6C70, gambling disorder. Both are under "addictive behaviors," and their descriptions share very similar wording.

Whether we are seeing a wave of criticism that will end up erasing or minimizing the use of loot boxes from mobile gaming (and gaming more generally) remains to be seen. There's a lot of money on the table, and money usually equals lobbying power. At the same time, gamers seem to be firmly against the use of loot boxes. If lawmakers go ahead and regulate loot boxes, I wonder how that will affect the various genres of games that depend on them, and whether we'll end up with something better or not. It remains to be seen.

[via The News Tribune]

  • Mr. Mayhem

    It’s already 2019? Time sure does fly by.

    • Eli Hodapp

      Tasos is writing from the future, it's awkward. Buy Bitcoin.

    • Tasos Lazarides

      How do you think we get all the scoops?

  • Dailon Huskey

    Hard to say it’s not gambling or a form of it... I think some IAP shouldn’t exist such as crates
    IAP for extra content, characters all that is fine but paying for a chance in gaming is wrong I wish it would be stopped and maybe that would kill some of this pay to win FTP junk having said that I do realize that something like that could hurt mobile gaming in general and I don’t like that side of it but something has to give
    I just don’t know I simply play premium games now unless it’s a final fantasy game that’s FTP and I’m going to keep going that way since so many good premiums are coming out now

    • JasonLL

      I believe it’s clearly gambling. You spend real money for a chance to win a prize, doesn’t matter if it’s in a actual casino or playing a video game at home.

      Where I differ is that I believe all forms of entertainment, including gambling in video games and in the real world, have a right to exist. As an adult If I want to, IMO responsibly, play a character collecting loot box game then no other adult should tell me how to spend my money.

      With that said should the gambling aspect be as heavy handed in certain games aimed at kids such as Disney Magic Kingdoms? No. If you include loot boxes / treasure chests in a kids game then that content should be reasonably accessible without money. In Kingdoms I don’t believe that to be the case.

      Disney Crossy Road is a perfect example of a kids game that includes loot boxes without being too demanding. If you spend a bit of time play Disney Crossy Road you will eventually get the character you want without breaking the bank.

      • Dailon Huskey

        I get what you mean and I agree I don't care about adults it's their choice if they want to spend 1000 on a mobile game for a chance be my guest but i think it's wrong for games that are marketed to kids and there are plenty in that latter category. It's a tough one too because who knows if it's a kid or adult paying

    • lezrock

      Same. Here. I will just ignore it completely.

  • Jerutix

    Are we talking only about in video games, or are we also talking about Lootcrate, etc. and physical loot boxes. I'd say maybe for video games, but no for physical.

  • Brian E

    This would be fascinating if they tried to apply this to physical purchases as well... imagine the implications. Every CCG would have to rethink it's game, like Magic the Gathering couldn't sell booster packs.

    • Dunan

      You've got a real interesting point there because at the very basic form it would be classed the same as a "loot box".

      Didn't even occur to me they would come under those lines too.

      • Misuteri

        Imagine in hindsight what the people that bought the World of Waraft cards would have to consider in this scenario of cards.

        A Spectral Tiger has been $500+ for the longest time and most mount loot cards are at least $250.

        Getting that kind of value potential on a $2.50 pack of cards = gambling no matter how you look at it.

  • Misuteri

    When loot box contents are items that can determine the outcome of a game; better weapons, characters, power ups etc it is most certainly gambling.

    If it’s a new mount, skin, spray/marker/flag, voice etc (I am most familiar with Heroes of the Storm as my only current lootbox game.) a loot box is not gambling.

    Even on HOTS you can earn gold to buy even the best characters at the rate of one a month. Chances are over the course of that month a loot box is going to contain at least one other character.

    The difference is subtle but genuine. I don’t know how you can put every game in a legally defined differential between game winning/altering (Gambling) and merely cosmetic (Not gambling.).

    Every developer has their own set of morals or lack thereof. As long as whales exist there will be sleaze out there hunting them and no amount of legislation will ever fix that.

    • Jay Ess

      I didn't know I could go to a Casino and play with fake currency and still get real pay outs...

      Oh you can't? Weird!

      Wait you can totally buy real loot boxes with fake currency and never spend a dime? Huh... Sounds like gambling to me!

  • h4nd0fg0d

    It most certainly is a form of gambling.

  • Pedro Rama da Silva

    If it is gambling or not is a legal issue that has to be decided in light of each countries law, which complicates things more with the internet. In Poetugal I believe this would be classified as gambling, because you are using money for a variable outcome (even knowing the odds here is not enough to put it apart from gambling imho). And it does not matter if it is cosmetic or game changing like some say. That is all the same. No matter if it is digital or physical too. I do, however, agree that if this applies, then obviously ccgs are affected as well. Some try to circumvent saying "but you always get something", well in view of portuguese law that is BS. What i also think is BS is trying to connect this to deceiving children. Children do not have incomes and only have money (digital one), if parents allow it. So the parents should monitor their activities.